Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Huitlacoche... An Exercise in Trust

Ok, you have to trust me on this one. Like a full faith, 100%, would I lead you astray type of way. It's called Huitlacoche (kweet-lah-KOH-chay), but it's also known as the Mexican truffle, which sounds delicious, right? But another name for it is "corn smut" which sounds disgusting and reminds me of what someone would call a porno that was shot on a farm. And technically it is corn that has been infected, grown bulbous and black on the cob, and while in Mexico it is canned and sold as a delicacy, in the US when this happens it is more often than not destroyed. But ignore that, think truffle, think delicacy. Because regardless of what it is called it is earthy richness, a lovely sweetness and is just perfect in so many dishes.
Definitely much prettier than Huitlacoche... but don't let that deter you
I remembered it from growing up in South Texas, found in some Tex-Mex restaurants, but primarily available in the full fledged Mexican joints. I had actually seen it at my local deli in Brooklyn and it caught me by surprise, but then, in a night of ordering in weakness I also saw it on a local Mexican restaurants' menu and ordered. And was hooked. It should be located in the ethnic/Mexican section of any major grocery store and it comes in a can (so also non-perishable!) Throw it in a quesadilla or enchilada with some melty cheese and you will forget everything except how absolutely delicious it is. Let me warn you though, huitlacoche is not pretty in the least, looking kind of like smallish black mushrooms that are very moist and gooey. Gross sounding, I know, but this is a trust exercise here. So trust me, and try these!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Spicy Cashew Chicken

Nights I go to the gym are always tough. I'm rushing out of work early but also getting home from the gym too late to begin making something too intensely homemade. I'm sweaty, humid from my shower and exhausted. But exercising, especially spinning, is such an amazing work out that I always have some sort of leftover energy. So I drag myself up from the couch or the bed or wherever I've planted myself post-shower to the kitchen to create a meal. Tonight, inspired by both Homesick Texan and Simply Recipes, I made spicy cashew chicken.
It's not what you think when you initially hear "cashew chicken." This is spicy, with some bite from the smokey chipotles, and a little creamy from the light mayo thrown into the marinade. There's a beautiful sour pucker from the lime zest, umami from the tamari, and of course a sweet crunch from the cashews. And it's all so easy to throw together. Despite my food processor/blender dying for good (yeah, that'll be an unloved appliance post soon)... it wasn't so bad to combine and absolutely delicious over the chicken.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Squash Blossoms

Every year, for the past few years, I've indulged in a purchase of squash blossoms. Just once in the summer when they're in season and just one box from the farmers market, as my favorite way to eat them is stuffed with cheese and fried, a culinary privilege of the utmost kind. There are few things as beautiful, as summery as these sunset colored blossoms resting on a counter right before they are dipped in batter and dropped into the hot oil. And few things as delicious as the crisp exterior giving way to the delicate blooms below before tasting the creamy cheese.

Hirsch Selection Small Batch Reserve

I'm absolutely silly when it comes to bourbon, especially bourbon that I love. I have 2 bottles that have been sitting on my counter for months, touched for a sip here and there or in the case of my Corner Creek to splash a little into some recipe. But in the making of drunken cherries, was I about to use those bottles? Absolutely not! Does this make me a bourbon hoarder? And if so, is that necessarily a bad thing?
So I went out into the heat with my sister to pick out a new bottle. I was tempted to get another Corner Creek, for the price it really can't be beat, but I wanted to branch out a little, try something new. And as I was going to use this basically for preserving cherries and not intended to be consumed as a beverage, I didn't want to be too picky. So without too much thought I grabbed this bottle, Hirsch Selection Small Batch Reserve for no reason other than being right next to the Corner Creek and in the same price range ($30).

Here's what the experts had to say over at American Hooch.
"Very clean on the nose.  There’s something bitter lingering there…tar?…algae?  Not entirely pleasant, but very muted as to be almost unoticable.  
On the palate there’s a good bit of burned sugar, dark raspberry, over all pretty bright and with something salty in there.  Medium finish, but quite warm."
After drunken cherry making there wasn't much left, as you can see, but just enough for us to taste. We tasted with both a splash of water and without and agreed there was a good complexity, but it was a tad harsh and lingering, which not necessarily bad. The splash of water muted this though. On the nose most prominently was brown sugar, followed closely by vanilla, but it didn't have the same rich, smokey full mouth feel that Old Pogue has. But it's also not in the same price range. Not bad, for the price and for the complexity I'm glad I used this for the cherries.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Drunken Cherries

My first foray into the world of preserving, canning, putting back outside of a class and it's a pretty easy one. It involves no intensive slaving over a hot stove, no purifying, dunking, boiling, waiting. Well, maybe a little bit of waiting. It involves an age old tradition of preserving in alcohol, which makes it pretty much a snap to make and reminds me of a classed up version of "marinated" maraschino cherries (remember those from high school parties?). This is definitely the grown-up version of that though.
Drunken cherries are simply that. Cherries that have been stemmed, though not pitted, slit down the middle and submerged into a bath of bourbon and brown sugar. They are good within a week and can be kept up to a year. Great over ice cream or in a Manhattan, in a tart or simply with some whipped cream. The leftover bourbon shouldn't go to waste either, I'm sure there are tons of drink concoctions either known or created on the fly.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Oven Grilled Pizza

Being Friday, the end of a long week, with a busy weekend ahead and recovering from a Thursday night full of running into people I haven't seen since in a long time, all I wanted to do was come home and sleep. And figuring dinner in there somewhere, I prepared the pizza dough before my nap and when I woke up an hour later it was ready to go. Then while I was getting out my pizza pan, I spotted my somewhat neglected stove top grill and thought, what the hey, why not right? My sister, owner of both a deck and a grill, has been going on and on about grilled pizza and while I knew I couldn't capture the smokiness, I could at least pick up some lovely grill marks. And even better that I had both smoked mozzarella and smoked ricotta on hand to assist in the process.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Guest Blogging... Silk Purse and Sow's Ear

I love love love when my friends blog.  And even better when they blog about things I adore, like vintage anything, and such self-sufficient activities as sewing and crafting, cooking and canning, and this whole blog is dedicated to just that. Meet Robin, of Silk Purse and Sow's EarShe is not only a fellow homesick Texan, but an amazing friend and I've had the pleasure of knowing her from both of our past lives to our better places now, which encompasses most of my New York City life. 
I wanted to showcase one of her recent posts about canning and putting back because it's something I've dabbled with and one of these days, when I'm actually home, I too will be turning my apartment into a mini canning factory and finally making good use of my storage space... all I need is time *sigh*. But until then, check out her own canning adventures as well as her blog as a whole.
Canning Day
On Saturday, the church ladies gathered to do some canning in our beloved church kitchen.

two types of brine - one savory and the other sweet
sliced cucumbers
sliced cucumbers
Canning in a church kitchen provides an amazing amount of room,  enormous pots, and an industrial dishwasher!  I don’t know how I’ll ever can any other way!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Chupe de Camerones

I don't write about my Grandmother nearly as much as I thought I would, or think I should. Not a day goes by where she isn't somewhere on my mind, in a look or a moment, a scent or a sound, but it's hard to put her in words. She was a true force in life and after my Mom, she was my greatest female mentor, both in and out of the kitchen.

My Grandmother lived an amazing life that was transparent in all her adventures... climbing mountains, publishing her writing, marrying a Yankee after mere months of meeting, "rescuing" pre-columbian Incan artifacts, traveling all over the world. But she was also incredible in more obscure ways... being single until her mid 30s, having a child at 36 (now maybe not so amazing but we're talking about the '50s, people), leaving her home country of Chile for Peru and then leaving there for a completely different continent decades later, asthma, breast cancer, maintaining friendships that spanned across decades and countries, being married to my Grandfather for 49 years, taking such pride in herself, her home, her family. Maybe force doesn't even begin to describe her. She was one of a kind.
My take on chupe de camarones

Thursday, July 14, 2011

How to: Line Cake Pans

Well that last post was a doozy, but as this is my outlet, it is what it is. And I feel better having gotten that little annoyance off my chest, which is the point right? So how about some mindless baking tips to lighten the mood... and what can possibly be more mindless than folding some parchment paper?

This was a great trick learned in a cake making class and one I put to good use when baking the 3 layer Italian Cream. For those of you who have ever made a cake, the most trying part can be getting the cooked cake out of the pan. Parchment is an easy solution but cutting it to size for rounded cakes can be an annoyance that is easily skipped in the moment, and then quickly regretted when the cake tears right down the middle. So employ this very easy folding technique, and once you get the hang of it you can make dozens just to keep around for the next time you bake a cake.

Step 1: Cut a square of parchment paper as large as the cake pan. Fold paper in half and then again so it's 1/4 square of the original size.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Hazelnut Sponge Cupcakes

I first tried this spongecake recipe in a cake class I took with one of my good friends. It was so delicious and light and wonderful I've been looking for a good reason to make it again. But with nothing immediate presenting itself (and polls saying otherwise) I decided this was the perfect amount of baking for a day like today. And in my usual style, I made it into a cupcake, because... well, it's what I do. Topped with a simple whipped cream and nutella frosting... it's perfect for summer, for indulgence and for some intense meditation baking.

A Healthy Indulgence: Turkey Meatballs

A few years ago I started experimenting with turkey as a healthy alternative and something that wasn't quite as "chicken-y" as well... chicken. It quickly became a fan favorite in my chili, and I use it fairly consistently to replace any recipe that calls for ground beef or pork. It's healthy, it's tasty but yet not an overpowering flavor and you can usually find it as either just white meat or a combo with some dark meat (my preference). Yes, the meat can be a little dry, but try some part skim ricotta as a healthier alternative to adding a whole egg, to keep it nice and moist.
Turkey meatball salad, with slow roasted tomatoes, sauteed onions,
quinoa, arugula and a dollop of non-fat Greek yogurt

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Slow Roasted Tomatoes and Second Impressions

If there was ever a recipe where I strongly advise you to immediately drop everything you are doing and make, this is it. Just do it. 3 hours from now you will thank me. Because these little slow roasted tomatoes are my new candy, my new craving. I used up a whole carton of grape tomatoes making these and had to exercise the utmost self control I could muster not to stuff them all in my mouth. So I suggest, when you make these, use cartons. Multiple. Because you will want to not only eat as is, but put in every meal you make, be it pasta, in a sandwich, salad, quiche, tart... there are really endless options.
And did I mention it was absolutely the easiest thing to make? Minimal prep, a little oil, a sprinkle of salt, maybe a few garlic cloves, which are optional, and pop in the oven on the lowest heat possible, so low you won't even notice the oven is on... which, perfect for summer! 3 hours later and you have possible the best way to eat a tomato, outside of just biting into juicy slices of a beautifully ripe red tomato from the farmers market, with just a sprinkle of salt, in August. Nothing can beat that. Of course I would suggest you use the freshest possible tomatoes, and those little cherries, grapes and even Roma's work great,  and are perfect as a small addition to a meal but you can go bigger too. I personally can't wait to try with some farmers market heirloom Brandywines or some delicious German Greens.

Monday, July 4, 2011

How to: Make Cake Flour

Ever find yourself in one of those situations where you've got all the ingredients for the cake recipe laid out, you're under a time limit and this cake is something that's meant to be super special, so no shortcuts. But there it is... the ingredient you immediately skipped over because of course you have flour, who doesn't. But cake flour is what the recipe calls for. And now you're stuck. Run out again for that one (expensive) ingredient or just do without and pray that it's still as light and fluffy as it would've been with the correct ingredient.

Well the next time you find yourself stuck in a rut like that, don't panic. Because you too can save some money and make your own cake flour from all purpose. And all you need is a sifter, corn starch and all purpose flour. It's as easy as pie.

Happy Birthday USA

 And Happy Birthday to all my July friends too! In keeping with my promise on the birthday cake poll, the clear winner was Italian Cream with Cream Cheese Frosting, so that's what I made.
As far as weekends go, it was excellent. Between seeing friends, going to parties, staying cool, making (and eating) all sorts of delicious treats, and going to not 1 but 2 amazing baseball games it was just an excellent weekend. So before the recipe, I'll give you a nice little slideshow of all the fun.

Brioche French Toast with Bourbon (of course)

Lately I've been wrapping my head so much around summer and diets and learning how to put foods away- like preserving and canning, not like arranging pantry items-, it's been a while since I had a true indulgence. No, I'm not talking about my shore weekend that consisted of drinking and eating more calories than I care to divulge. I mean a true, luxurious indulgence... like a brioche french toast, the thick egg-y and buttery slices of bread dipped in a sweetly spiced custard with that lovely smokey kick of bourbon. The outside browned just so, with a slight crunch and the inside melting and moist, like the best kind of bread pudding but for breakfast.
So this weekend, in need of something sweet and lovely and wonderful to start the day I made brioche french toast for the birthday girl and her boyfriend before we went out to watch some baseball. This breakfast was the perfect start to a wonderful day.


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